In comparison to the Warhoons, the Tharks – especially the
band commanded by Lorquas Ptomel and Tars Tarkas – are the height of Green
Martian reason and civility. The reader may recall that they were all ears
and listened with interest to the impassioned plea of Dejah Thoris during
her stirring oration before them, only broken when the young chieftan made
his fatal mistake of leaping down and striking her a terrible blow to the
face. This act seemed to stun the chieftans who were listening, but this
act would have been normal and expected among the Warhoons.
Carter is swift to learn this lesson. He regains consciousness after
falling in battle and discovers his captors are not Tharks as he originally
“It must have been several hours before
I regained consciousness and I well remember the feeling of surprise which
swept over me when I realized that I was not dead.
This, by the way, is the only reference that gives us a strong clue as
to how many shoulders and breasts the Green Martians have, for, as we all
know, they have an extra set of appendages that can be used either as arms
or legs halfway between their shoulders and hips.
“I was lying among a pile of sleeping silks and
furs in the corner of a small room in which there were several green warriors,
and bending over me was an ancient and ugly female.
“As I opened my eyes she turned to one of the
“‘He will live, O, Jed.’
“‘ ’Tis well,’ replied the one so addressed, rising
and approaching my couch, ‘he should render rare sport for the great games.’
“And now as my eyes fell upon him, I saw that
he was no Thark, for his ornaments and metal were not of that horde. He
was a huge fellow, horribly scarred about the face and chest, and with
one broken tusk and a missing ear. Strapped on either breast were human
skulls and depending from these a number of dried human hands.” (PM/18.)
Some artists have in their depictions given them an extra set of shoulders
and breasts where these appendages are attached to the body, going for
a more logical anatomy, but ERB seems to suggest in this passage that they
have only one set of shoulders and breasts.
“His reference to the great games of
which I had heard so much while among the Tharks convinced me that I had
but jumped from purgatory into gehenna.
That’s quite a scene to imagine, the great tusk ripping the body of Bar
Comas from groin to jaw, getting stuck in the bone. ERB never disappoints
in his descriptions of violence and gore. He knew, like movies trying to
avoid an “R” rating today, that violence is okay as long as there is no
“After a few more words with the female, during
which she assured him that I was now fully fit to travel, the jed ordered
that we mount and ride after the main column.
“I was strapped securely to as wild and unmanageable
a thoat as I had ever seen, and, with a mounted warrior on either side
to prevent the beast from bolting, we rode forth at a furious pace in pursuit
of the column. My wounds gave me but little pain, so wonderfully and rapidly
had the applications and injections of the female exercised their therapuetic
powers, and so deftly had she bound and plastered the injuries.
“Just before dark we reached the main body of
troops shortly after they had made camp for the night. I was immediately
taken before the leader, who proved to be the jeddak of the hordes of Warhoon.
“Like the jed who had brought me, he was frightfully
scarred, and also decorated with a breastplate of human skulls and dried
dead hands which seemed to mark all the greater warriors among the Warhoons,
as well as to indicate their awful ferocity, which greatly transcends even
that of the Tharks.
“The jeddak, Bar Comas, who was comparatively
young, was the object of the fierce and jealous hatred of his old lieutenant,
Dak Kova, the jed who had captured me, and I could not but note the almost
studied efforts which the latter made to affront his superior.
“He entirely omitted the usual formal salutation
as we entered the presence of the jeddak, and as he pushed me roughly before
the ruler he exclaimed in a loud and menacing voice,
“‘I have brought a strange creature wearing the
metal of a Thark whom it is my pleasure to have battle with a wild thoat
at the great games.’
“‘He will die as Bar Comas, your jeddak, sees
fit, if at all,’ replied the young ruler, with emphasis and dignity.
“‘If at all?’ roared Dak Kova. ‘By the dead hands
at my throat but he shall die, Bar Comas. No maudlin weakness on your part
shall save him. O, would that Warhoon were ruled by a real jeddak rather
than by a water-hearted weakling from whom even old Dak Kova could tear
the metal with his bare hands!’
“Bar Comas eyed the defiant and insubordinate
chieftan for an instant, his expression one of haughty, fearless contempt
and hate, and then without drawing a weapon and without uttering a word
he hurled himself at the throat of his defamer.
“I had never before seen two green Martian warriors
battle with nature’s weapons and the exhibition of animal ferocity which
ensued was as fearful a thing as the most disordered imagination could
picture. They tore at each others’ eyes and ears with their hands and with
their gleaming tusks repeatedly slashed and gored until both were cut fairly
to ribbons from head to foot.
“Bar Comas had much the better of the battle as
he was stronger, quicker and more intelligent. It soon seemed that the
encounter was done saving only the final death thrust when Bar Comas slipped
in breaking away from a clinch. It was the one little opening that Dak
Kova needed, and hurling himself at the body of his adversary he buried
his single mighty tusk in Bar Comas’ groin and with a last powerful effort
ripped the young jeddak wide open the full length of his body, the great
tusk finally wedging in the bones of Bar Comas’ jaw. Victor and vanquished
rolled limp and lifeless upon the moss, a huge mass of torn and bloody
“Bar Comas was stone dead, and only the most herculean
efforts on the part of Dak Kovas’ females saved him from the fate he deserved.
Three days later he walked without assistance to the body of Bar Comas
which, by custom, had not been moved from where it fell, and placing his
foot upon the neck of his erstwhile ruler he assumed the title of Jeddak
“The dead jeddak’s hands and head were removed
to be added to the ornaments of his conquerer, and then his women cremated
what rermained, amid wild and terrible laughter.” (PM/18.)
The injuries of Dak Kovas delays the march so greatly, they give up
their original intention, which was to raid a small Thark community in
retaliation for the destruction of their incubator, which Carter
had witnessed. They decide to wait until the great games are concluded
before continuing the mission, and the warriors, ten thousand in number,
ride back to Warhoon.
“My introduction to these cruel and bloodthirsty
people was but an index to the scenes I witnessed almost daily while with
them. They are a smaller horde than the Tharks but much more ferocious.
Not a day passed but that some members of the various Warhoon communities
met in deadly combat. I have seen as high as eight mortal duels within
a single day.” (PM/18.)
When they arrive in Warhoon three days later, Carter is cast into a dungeon
and heavily chained to the wall and floor in utter darkness. The inky black
isolation and glowing eyes of scary creatures drive him into a state of
near lunacy, driving him to take it out on his jailer, who regularly brings
him his food:
“Finally all the hatred and maniacal
loathing for these awful creatures who had placed me in this horrible place
was centered on my tottering reason upon this single emissary who represented
to me the entire horde of Warhoon.
Again Carter experiences glowing eyes in the dark, this time six pair of
them, slowly approaching him. He backs against the wall in terror with
palms outstretched, but they stop at the body of the jailer, and, as Carter
discovers when he returns to the body for the keys after the eyes have
disappeared, there is no longer a body, for the creatures have dragged
it away into the darkness. He is back where he started.
“I had noticed that he always advanced with his
dim torch to where he could place the food within my reach and as he stooped
to place it on the floor his head was about on a level with my breast.
So, with the cunning of a madman, I backed into the far corner of my cell
when next I heard him approaching and gathering a little slack of the great
chain which held me in my hand I waited his coming, crouching like some
beast of prey. As he stooped to place my food upon the ground I swung the
chain above my head and crashed the links with all my strength upon his
skull. Without a sound he slipped to the floor, stone dead.
“Laughing and chattering like the idiot I was
fast becoming I fell upon his prostrate form my fingers feeling for his
dead throat. Presently they came in contact with a small chain at the end
of which dangled a number of keys. The touch of my fingers upon these keys
brought back my reason with the suddenness of thought. No longer was I
a jibbering idiot, but a sane, reasoning man with the means of escape within
my very hands.” (PM/18.)
I believe ERB had first hand experience of the madness that comes with
isolation. He and his wife, Emma, had spent many a lonely night sledging
for gold in Idaho on the Snake River. Many pioneers went mad with cabin
fever in this kind of exile from civilization. Besides, ERB had received
a mighty blow to his head in Toronto when as a guest he went there with
Frank Martin in his father’s private train car. Martin was a wealthy rival
for the hand of Emma in Chicago, and I tend to agree with R.E. Prindle
(ERBzine #1343), that
the train trip was arranged to get rid of ERB once and for all. They were
accompanied by Martin’s bodyguard, R.H. Patchin, who I imagine played the
same kind of role as David Warner’s bodyguard detective did to Billy Zane’s
wealthy Wall Street trader in the movie, Titanic.
Prindle learned of this injury to ERB from an article by ERB scholar
Robert Barrett in the Fall 2003 issue of Burroughs Bulletin. Barrett received
a copy of a letter that Patchin wrote about the event from Danton Burroughs,
who also made it available to Prindle for copying. It details the three
of them bar hopping in a slummy area of Toronto and coming into conflict
with some thugs, one of whom hit ERB on the head with a sap or pipe. Only
the fact that ERB protected himself with an upraised hand prevented the
blow from being fatal.
As it was, ERB was knocked unconscious and suffered horrible headaches,
nightmares, and temporary bouts of amnesia for the rest of his life. In
fact, many of his close associates attributed many of the ideas in his
novels as deriving from the nightmares he suffered.
ERB used amnesia as a literary device in many his novels, most famously
in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. On this, he truly wrote what he
knew. I once experienced a very short bout of amnesia after waking up from
a deep dream one morning when I was married with two young daughters. I
awoke in a cold sweat, having no idea of who or where I was. I heard noises
in the next room, a television, and rushed into the room, and seeing two
little girls on a couch watching the TV, I screamed, “Where am I?”
Fortunately, my daughters thought I was joking, yelling back, “Daddy!”
Suddenly, my reason was restored exactly as ERB describes it in the story
of Carter’s killing of the jailer above. This was one of the most frightening
events in my life, not knowing who or where I was. No wonder ERB was a
master of horror. He wrote from hard experience.
John Carter formed two lasting friendships and the love of his life
in A Princess of Mars, to wit: Tars Tarkas, Kantos Kan, and, of
course, Dejah Thoris. In the next scene he meets Kantos Kan for the first
time. Their friendship was so intense, Carter originally planned to marry
his daughter, Tara of Helium, to Djor Kantos, the son of Kantos Kan. That
is, until Gahan of Gathol entered the scene in The Chessmen of Mars.
Anyway, back to the story. Carter doesn’t receive any food for two days
until a new jailer takes the place of the dead one, and things go on as
before, until a new prisoner is brought into the dungeon.
“Shortly after this episode another prisoner
was brought in and chained near me. By the dim torch light I saw that he
was a red Martian and I could scarcely await of his guards to address him.
As their retreating footsteps died away in the distance, I called out softly
the Martian word of greeting, kaor.
Now comes the first arena scene in the Barsoomian Mythos. The great games
are everything you imagined, especially if you are a fan of the Star Wars
Saga, Spartacus, and the movie, Gladiator. But even then, the Warhoons
give the idea a whole different kind of twist.
“‘Who are you who speaks out of the darkness?’
“‘John Carter, a friend of the red men of Helium.’
“‘I am of Helium,’ he said, ‘but I do not recall
“‘And then I told him my story as I have written
it here, omitting only any reference to my love for Dejah Thoris. He was
much excited by the news of Helium’s princess and seemed quite positive
that she and Sola could easily have reached a point of safety from
where they left me. He said that he knew the place well because the defile
through which the Warhoon warriors had passed when they discovered us was
the only one ever used by them when marching to the south.
“Dejah Thoris and Sola entered the hills not five
miles from a great waterway and are now probably quite safe,’ he assured
“My fellow prisoner was Kantos Kan, a padwar (lieutenant)
in the navy of Helium. He had been a member of the ill-fated expedition
which had fallen into the hands of the Tharks at the time of Dejah Thoris’
capture, and he brieflly related the events which followed the defeat of
“Badly injured and only partially manned they
had limped slowly toward Helium, but while passing near the city of Zodanga,
the capital of Helium’s hereditary enemies among the red men of Barsoom,
they had bee attacked by a great body of war vessels and all but the craft
to which Kantos Kan belonged were either destroyed or captured. His vessel
was chased for days by three of the Zodangan war ships but finally escaped
during the darkness of a moonless night.
“Thirty days after the capture of Dejah Thoris,
or about the time of our coming to Thark, his vessel had reached Helium
with about ten survivors of the original crew of seven hundred officers
and men. Immediately seven great fleets, each of one hundred mighty war
ships, had been dispatched to search for Dejah Thoris, and from these vessels
two thousand smaller craft had been kept out continuously in futile search
for the missing princess.
“Two green Martian communities had been wiped
off the face of Barsoom by the avenging fleets, but no trace of Dejah Thoris
had been found. They had been searching among the northern hordes, and
only within the past few days had they extended their search to the south.
“Kantos Kan had been detailed to one of the small
one-man fliers and had had the misfortune to be discovered by the Warhoons
while exploring their city. The bravery and daring of the man won my greatest
respect and admiration. Alone he had landed at the city’s boundary and
on foot had penetrated to the buildings surrounding the plaza. For two
days and nights he had explored their quarters and their dungeons in search
of his beloved princess only to fall into the hands of a party of Warhoons
as he was about to leave, after assuring himself that Dejah Thoris was
not a captive there.
“During the period of our incarceration Kantos
Kan and I became well acquainted, and formed a warm personal friendship.
A few days only elapsed, however, before we were dragged forth from our
dungeon for the great games.” (PM/19.)
“We were conducted early one morning
to an enormous amphitheater, which instead of having been built upon the
surface of the ground was excavated below the surface. It had partially
filled with debris so that how large it had originally been was difficult
to say. In its present condition it held the entire twenty thousand Warhoons
of the assembled hordes.
This is a trick Carter will utilize time and again as he continuously learns
and grows in knowledge and skill until no one can face him on two planets
with a chance of winning.
“The arena was immense but extremely uneven and
unkempt. Around it the Warhoons had piled building stone from some of the
ruined edifices of the ancient city to prevent the animals and the captives
from escaping into the audience, and at each end had been constructed cages
to hold them until their turns came to meet some horrible death upon the
“Kantos Kan and I were confined together in one
of the cages. In the others were wild calots, thoats, mad zitidars, green
warriors, and women of other hordes, and many strange and ferocious wild
beasts of Barsoom which I had never before seen. The din of their roaring,
growling and squealing was deafening and the formidable appearance of any
one of them was enough to make the stoutest heart feel grave forebodings.
“Kantos Kan explained to me that at the end of
the day one of these prisoners would gain freedom and the others would
lie dead about the arena. The winners in the various contests would be
pitted against each other until only two remained alive; the victor in
the last encounter being set free, whether animal or man. The following
morning the cages would be filled with a new consignment of victims, and
so on throughout the ten days of the games.
“Shortly after we had been caged the amphitheater
began to fill and within an hour every available part of the seating space
was occupied. Dak Kova, with his jeds and chieftans, sat at the center
of one side of the arena upon a large raised platform.
“At a signal from Dak Kova the doors of two cages
were thrown open and a dozen green Martian females were driven to the center
of the arena. Each was given a dagger and then, at the far end, a pack
of twelve calots, or wild dogs were loosed upon them.
“As the brutes, growling and foaming, rushed upon
the almost defenseless women I turned my head that I might not see the
horrid sight. The yells and laughter of the green horde bore witness to
the excellent quality of the sport and when I turned back to the arena,
as Kantos Kan told me it was over, I saw three victorious calots, snarling
and growling over the bodies of their prey. The women had given a good
account of themselves.
“Next a mad zitidar was loosed among the remaining
dogs, and so it went throughout the long, hot, horrible day.
“During the day I was pitted against first men
and then beasts, but as I was armed with a long-sword and always outclassed
my adversary in agility and generally in strength as well, it proved but
child’s play to me. Time and time again, I won the applause of the bloodthirsty
multitude, and toward the end there were cries that I be taken from the
arena and be made a member of the hordes of Warhoon.
“Finally there were but three of us left, a great
green warrior of some far northern horde, Kantos Kan, and myself. The other
two were to battle and then I to fight the conqueror for the liberty which
was accounted the final winner.
“Kantos Kan had fought several times during the
day and like myself had always proven victorious, but occasionally by the
smallest of margins, especially when pitted against the green warriors.
I had little hope that he could best his giant adversary who had mowed
down all before him during the day. The fellow towered nearly sixteen feet
in height, while Kantos Kan was some inches under six feet. As they advanced
to meet one another I saw for the first time a trick of Martian swordsmanship,
which centered Kantos Kan’s every hope of victory and life on one cast
of the dice, for, as he came to with about twenty feet of the huge fellow
he threw his sword arm far behind him over his shoulder and with a mighty
sweep hurled his weapon point foremost at the green warrior. It flew true
as an arrow and piercing the poor devil’s heart laid him dead upon the
“Kantos Kan and I were now pitted against
each other but as we approached to the encounter I whispered to him to
prolong the battle until nearly dark in the hope that we find some means
of escape. The horde evidently guessed that we had no hearts to fight each
other and so they howled in rage as neither of placed a fatal thrust. Just
as I saw the sudden coming of dark I whispered to Kantos Kan to thrust
his sword between my left arm and my body. As he did so I staggered back
clasping the sword tightly with my arm and thus fell to the ground with
his weapon apparently protruding from my chest. Kantos Kan perceived my
coup and stepping quickly to my side he placed his foot upon my neck and
withdrawing his sword from my body gave me the final death blow through
the neck which is supposed to sever the jugular vein, but in this instance
the cold blade slippped harmlessly into the sand of the arena. In the darkness
which had now fallen none could tell but that he had really finished me.
I whispered to him to go and claim his freedom and then look for me in
the hills east of the city, and so he left me.
If the movie, John Carter of Mars, coming out in 2012, can do equal justice
to this scene as James Killian Spratt renders the combat in the arena (ERBzine
will be well worth the price of admission.
“When the amphitheater had cleared I crept stealthily
to the top and as the great excavation lay far from the plaza and in the
untenanted portion of the great dead city I had little trouble in reaching
the hills beyond.” (PM/19.)
Carter then has his adventures at the atmosphere factory and with the
Zodangans, and after slaying several guards in the palace seeking Dejah
Thoris, he escapes in a one-man flier headed to Helium. However, on the
way, as he passes over an ancient dead city, he discovers several thousand
Green Martians fighting among themselves.
“About noon I passed low over a great
dead city of ancient Mars, and as I skimmed out across the plain beyond
I came full upon several thousand green warriors engaged in a terrific
battle. Scarcely had I seen them than a volley of shots was directed at
me, and with the almost unfailing accuracy of their aim my little craft
was instantly a ruined wreck, sinking erratically to the ground.
Fighting together in this battle forms one of the greatest bonds of friendships
in American literature. Whenever in the future Tars Tarkas and John Carter
meet each other, this conflict is foremost in their minds. Yes, to create
this bond, ERB uses the device of coincidence, almost drives it into the
ground, but that is what the mature ERB reader expects in his author, for
he has gone down in history as the master of coincidence.
“I fell almost directly in the center of the fierce
combat, among warriors who had not seen my approach so busily were they
engaged in life and death struggles. The men were fighting on foot with
long-swords, while an occasional shot from a sharpshooter on the outskirts
of the conflict would bring down a warrior who might for an instant separate
himself from the tangled mass.
“As my machine sank among them I realized that
it was fight or die, with good chances of dying in any event, and so I
struck the ground with drawn longsword ready to defend myself as I could.
“I fell beside a huge monster who was engaged
with three antagonists, and as I glanced at his fierce face, filled with
the light of battle, I recognized Tars Tarkas the Thark. He did not see
me, as I was a trifle behind him, and just then the three warriors opposing
him, and whom I recognized as Warhoons, charged simultaneously. The mighty
fellow made quick work of one of them, but in stepping back for another
thrust he fell over a dead body behind him and was down and at the mercy
of his foes in an instant. Quick as lightning they were upon him, and Tars
Tarkas would have been gathered to his fathers in short orderhad I not
sprung before his prostrate form and engaged his adversaries. I had accounted
for one of them when the mighty Thark regained his feet and quickly settled
“He gave me one look, and a slight smile touched
his grim lips as, touching my shoulder, he said,
“‘I would scarcely recognize you, John Carter,
but there is no other mortal upon Barsoom who would have done what you
have for me. I think I have learned that there is such a thing as friendship,
“He said no more, nor was there opportunity, for
the Warhoons were closing in about us, and together we fought, shoulder
to shoulder, during all that long, hot afternoon, until the tide of battle
turned and the remnant of the fierce Warhoon horde fell back upon their
thoats, and fled into the gathering darkness.
“Ten thousand men had been engaged in that titanic
struggle, and upon the field of battle lay three thousand dead. Neither
side asked or gave quarter, nor did they attempt to take prisoners.” (PM/24.)
In our final two sections in Part Five, we will look at Tars Tarkas
Triumphant, as well as what scant information we can gather on the Torquas
and Thurd hordes.